The puerto rican Jibarito sandwich is a sandwich nobody has heard about. Not even in Puerto Rico. For native puerto ricans, jibaro means “rural person”. A term which can be affectionate or insulting depending on circumstances and preferences, I suppose.
But not in the Midwest.
Checking the list of messy sandwiches from Chicago, this Puerto Rican steak sandwich definitely has a safe spot in it. This caribbean hottie got invented back in 1996 by Juan Figueroa at his Humboldt Park eatery, the Borinquen.
It’s a steak sandwich with a peculiar twist — grilled steak, typically teamed with melted cheese, crisp lettuce, juicy tomato and a garlicky mayonnaise, placed between two hot, crisply fried, flattened green plantain, acting as bread.
This is where the sandwich gets interesting, and where it gets its trademark from. The plantains are similar to french fries, but in a nuttier, denser version.
That’s the basics.
Now, some jibarito sandwich aficionados swear that sweet grilled onions and melted slices of processed cheese are also essential, but that camouflages the sandwich’s very peculiar tastes. But in the end, no matter what your preference may be, the end result is a Puerto Rican plantain sandwich that combines hot and cold, chewy and crispy, creamy and garlicky all in one delicious, messy bite.
The Origin Of The Name
As mentioned above, Jibaro is a term that refers to the people of Puerto Rico that lived in the heart of the island. They were the backbone of agriculture in Puerto Rico, working sugar cane and coffee fields.
Back at the Borinquen, Figueroa created his sandwich after reading about a restaurant back in the motherland that served a similar dish called emparedado de platano. This translates roughly to banana pairings. It undoubtedly became pop. He sold hundreds of Jibaritos daily — developing original fillings that branched out to chicken, pork, ham and vegetables.
I guess this was the 90’s version of a viral fusion food hit. As a result, a large amount of other Latino restaurants throughout Chicago started serving the sandwich. Funnies of all: Not only Puerto Rican restaurants, but Cuban and Mexican eateries, too. It’s a ruthless game.
Native Puerto Ricans Never Even Heard About The Sandwich
While the Jibarito became a huge regional success, the sandwich is almost untraceable on the island. Certainly not under the name jibaro. There is one place on the far end of the island’s West coast that serves a somewhat similar dish.
The restaurant is Platano Loco – you guessed it: The Crazy Plantain – and it, indeed, serves a plantain sandwich. Now, I’m not really sure if it purposely serves the Jibarito sandwich per se, since the joint also serves plantain dumpling soup, plantain pizza, plantain parmesan, plantain burgers and spaghetti with a plantain sauce (jokes).
The Puerto Rican communities on the East Coast and in the South, which are pretty huge, have never been exposed to the sandwich neither. It remains a very popular but very regionalized Puerto Rican-Midwestern specialty.
After the closure of the Borinquen and the Jibarito drowning within the menus of other non-Puerto Rican restaurants, it’s hard to imagine the Jibarito to experience the universal populairty of, let’s say, the Bahn Mi.
I guess some things are meant to stay in odd places.
Jibarito Sandwich Recipe
Serves 2 sandwiches
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 pound of steak (thinly sliced)
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp garlic (or to taste)
dashes of salt and pepper
- Heat up the coconut oil in a medium pan, temperature staying around 325 degrees.
- Peel your plantains, cut them in half, and add them to the oil.
- Fry until they are golden yellow, about 2 minutes on each side.
- Place plantains on a cutting board or flat surface. With a second cutting board, push down on the plantains to flatten them.
- Place plantains back into the oil to fry more – about 2 minutes on each side. Once they start to brown, use tongs to remove plantains from the oil and place on paper towels to drain oil.